When eating a healthy diet, it is important to avoid empty calories. Empty calories are essentially foods that are high in either calories, sugar, salt, or fats, and have little to no nutritional value. And sometimes it seems like sugar, salt, and fats are impossible to avoid. They’re in our favorite foods and are essential ingredients to our favorite recipes. But, there are many natural substitutes to these ingredients that are not only healthier, but taste just as good.      

Salt

High consumption of salt heightens the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, and heart failure. So, it’s no surprise that it should be eaten in moderation, especially by those suffering from chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Salt is found primarily in processed foods, canned foods, and smoked, cured, salted or canned meat, fish, and poultry. The most efficient way to lower your intake of salt is to include more fresh meat, fish and poultry, dry peas and beans, and versions of foods that are, specifically, low in sodium. Eating home-cooked meals is another great way to lower your salt intake, because it gives you the control in how much salt is going into the meal. For salt substitutes in recipes, try:

  • Citrus fruits such as lemon and limes
  • Garlic
  • Herbs and spices (i.e. pepper, rosemary, basil, etc.)
  • Vinegar

Sugar

A diet high in sugar can lead to obesity, and has been linked to Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. While a lot of sugar in our diets comes from processed and dessert-type foods, sugar consumption in beverages often goes unnoticed. Sodas and juices, including fruit juices, are very high in sugar. Swapping out these drinks with low-sugar alternatives, or, even better, with water can help greatly decrease your sugar consumption. While many sugar substitutes do contain sugar, they are, generally, sweeter than sugar, and therefore, require much smaller portions. The key is moderating your sugar intake. Natural sugar substitutes include:

For cooking:

  • Molasses
  • Coconut sugar

For added flavor:

  • Stevia
  • Honey

Fat

Fats can be both good and bad. Good fats, fats that our bodies need, are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in foods like avocados, nuts, and fish. The bad fats, which are trans and saturated fats, are found in foods like baked goods, processed foods, and solid fats like butter. Diets high in bad fats can lead to a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, and stroke. When limiting bad fats, incorporate more seafood, lean poultry, and lean cuts of meat, and lessen your intake of baked goods, processed meats, packaged meals, takeout, and fried foods. Other great alternatives for solid fats are:

Alternatives to dairy products

  • Fat-free / low-fat milk, yogurts, and cheeses

Alternatives to butter

  • Avocado
  • Nut butter
  • Canola oil
  • Applesauce

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